Monday, April 6, 2009

AAA looks at: Top Hunter

The NeoGeo is known almost entirely for its great selection of fighting games but what of the few games from other genres? Top Hunter starring Roddy and Cathy is one such game. It's a dual-plane action game with a number of interesting ideas. 

The game itself is an interesting hybrid. The levels are split into two planes. You can jump in-between them at will provided there's nothing in your way (Enemies will also do the same). Everything from progressing through the levels to the boss fights makes use of the two-plane mechanic and knowing how to properly use it to your advantage can make all the difference and blah blah blah you get the idea. Your main attack as Roddy is your stretchy arms which can be used to grab enemies, items, switches, and so on(unless of course you're player 2 as Cathy will use a hook & chain). 

Now what's neat about this game is that you have a surprising amount of variety in your attacks. You can smack enemies to dizzy them, then either you can give them an over-the-shoulder slam or you can toss them at other bad guys. You can also snatch guns out of their hands or grab bombs out of midair. Also you get a handful of special attacks that are performed by doing controller motions like a quarter-circle forward or even a dragon-punch motion along with the attack button. To add to this sometimes the enemies are riding mechs which you can steal. Though they're not terribly effective they do give you a bunch of extra hits(which definitely helps because it only takes 2-4 hits to kill you). On top of all this you can even jump on enemies' heads to take them out.

The levels themselves are really beautiful. All of them feature an impressive amount of background animations and some really creative designs. Coupled with a very nice soundtrack(the music on the wind planet is awesome) this makes for a great showpiece as far as Neo Geo games go. The animation isn't as strong as say Metal Slug but it manages to fit in well with the rest of the atmosphere. 

Looking past the audio, visuals, and unique abilities, the game is standard fare for the genre. You move from left to right through four planets with three stages each(along with the obligatory final area after finishing the planets) punching/tossing enemies, grabbing lots of coins, looking for bonus areas(which are easy to find but are nice for getting more points/time/health), throw in some mid-bosses, some sections that require just a wee bit of thinking, and a surprising amount of relevance on how much time you have left(get action game where running out of time actually happens? shock!) and you have a well put together if not incredibly new game.

Unfortunately the game isn't all great as there are a few issues. Most annoying is the jump. Unlike many action games that give you full control over your jump even while still in mid-air, Top Hunter gives you very limited maneuverability. This can prove to be a real nuisance when you're trying to jump on enemies or dodge certain attacks. The grab move can also be tricky to work around as while you're stretching you are unable to move. This can be pretty lousy when you miss something important(like say an incoming bomb) cause there's nothing you can do to get out of the way. Also unlike similar action games you can be damaged simply by bumping into an enemy(even if they're not performing an attack).

Other than that the only other thing I don't like about this game is that at times it can be difficult to make out what's happening on which plane. Either way however this is a huge improvement over Magician Lord in that it's much easier to pick up and play. Unlike Top Hunter, ML requires that you know exactly what to do and when to jump every second of the game. TH on the other hand gives you plenty of freedom to move around and play the game your way(also the more generous continue system makes the game way more friendly for gamers of all ages)

In the end aside from some minor issues Top Hunter is one of the best games out right now for the NeoGeo VC. It's easy to get into, provides a decent challenge(in some ways it isn't terribly hard but don't expect to beat it without continues as soon as you pick it up either), and it boasts some impressive audio and visuals. 

Next time I should look at Magician Lord. I'm absolutely terrible at this game though.

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